For today’s Mass, the second reading is an excerpt from the Book of Hebrews (12:18-19, 22-24a). The author contrasts the Old Testament and the New Testament by discussing how one approached Mount Sinai (think Moses and the Ten Commandments) versus how one is to approach Mount Zion (think Jesus and the Paschal Mystery). Being “terrified and trembling” (v. 21 — not included in the reading) is replaced by a “festal gathering” (v. 22).
The reading and the section culminate with the words in the headline. Why the joy then? Because Jesus has redeemed us through His blood. The author of Hebrews is reminded of the first murder of an innocent — Cain killing Abel out of jealousy. Recall God’s reaction to this killing:
Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! (Gen 4:10)
Peter Paul Rubens – Cain slaying Abel, 1608-1609
So Abel is a type of Jesus. That is, he prefigures the coming Messiah. The Bible is full of typology. But no type perfectly anticipates its antitype:
Whereas Abel’s blood called for retribution, the blood of Jesus. innocent victim of a worse crime, cries out for mercy and forgiveness. Instead of bringing a curse (see Gen 4:11), it brings the blessing of eternal redemption (Heb 9:12) and victory over death. [Mary Healy, Hebrews (Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture), (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 278]
Nevertheless, just as Abel honored the Father God by his life, so did Jesus honor His Father by His life. Both were martyrs. Because of jealous rage evil forces sought to eliminate both of these men thinking that God would favor the perpetrators then. Cain learned nothing from his parents Fall or the admonitions of God (Gen 4:7) and the religious leaders in Jesus’ day learned nothing from the reproaches of Isaiah or Jesus:
Ah! Those who call evil good, and good evil. (Is 5:20)
This is the heir. Let us kill him that the inheritance may become ours.
(Lk 20:14 — see The Parable of the Tenant Farmers at Lk 20:9-19 especially the last verse)
Let us be reminded of this Precious Blood, spilled at so great a cost and with so great a love, in our devotions and particularly in our receiving that same Blood in the Eucharist. May we allow It to speak eloquently to our hearts so that we live as though we believe It is flowing through our very own veins and heart.